How Choice May Kill Public Education

By Diane Ravitch, 6/24/12

A reader posted a comment that I think is profound. The more that people begin to see education as a consumer choice, the more they will be unwilling to pay for other people’s children. And if they have no children in school, then they have no reason to underwrite other people’s private choices.

The basic compact that public education creates is this: The public is responsible for the education of the children of the state, the district, the community. We all benefit when other people’s children are educated. It is our responsibility as citizens to support a high-quality public education, even if we don’t have children in the public schools.

But once the concept of private choice becomes dominant, then the sense of communal responsibility is dissolved. Each of us is then given permission to think of what is best for me, not what is best for we.

Here is what the reader wrote:

Parents have always been free to direct their personal funds to the private schools of their choice, for what they see as the additional private benefit of their own children.

But people pay taxes to support the public school system whether they are parents or not. If only parents are given a choice in the type of school system that tax dollars support, then only parents of school-age children should pay school taxes, and based on the number of children in school.

Private individuals are not entitled by any consideration of the common good to divert public funds for the sake of private corporate profit and personal religious preferences.

When people start seeing education as a private commodity that parents buy for their own children — just another personal choice, like whether to buy designer duds or that hot new toy — then we are going to see a taxpayer revolt like we have never seen before, and public-funded education will cease to exist.

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